HOUSTON - There may be no way to truly describe how the Earth looks from space without physically going there. But that hasn?t kept veteran astronaut Michael Massimino, now working at the Hubble Space Telescope, from trying to give people a glimpse of their home planet from afar.
?I felt like I was almost looking at a secret... that humans weren?t supposed to see this. This is not anything you?re supposed to see. It?s too beautiful,? Massimino told SPACE.com before flight as he recalled the sight.
Massimino spent a grueling eight hours working with crewmate Michael Good in a Sunday spacewalk to overhaul Hubble. The mission is NASA?s last-ever flight to upgrade Hubble. Today, he?s inside the space shuttle Atlantis, helping two other spacewalkers do the same.
But before launching toward Hubble aboard NASA?s shuttle Atlantis on May 11, Massimino tried to explain to SPACE.com how Earth and space look through the thin glass of a spacesuit helmet:
?There?re no words to describe how beautiful things are out there,? Massimino said. ?So I like to describe what was going through my mind at the time.?
Massimino is making his second spaceflight on Atlantis and second trip to Hubble, during which time he made two spacewalks. On his first career spacewalk in 2002, he was so busy helping give Hubble new solar wings he didn?t dare look at the Earth. But on his second excursion, the view hit him, and hit him hard.
?It was a day pass and I could view the Earth very clearly. It was right there,? Massimino said. ?And my first reaction was to look away from it. That it was so beautiful, people weren?t supposed to see it."
And then he did what to most people on Earth would be unthinkable.
?I actually turned my head. I thought, I?m not supposed to be looking at this. This was too much to see,? Massimino said.
The grandeur of the planet struck Massimino as something more than just beautiful. Something he can picture so clearly, but words fail to explain fully.
?It was like looking into absolute paradise,? said Massimino, adding that the view was more than heavenly. ?I?m looking forward to doing that again.?
On Sunday, after a marathon eight hours of spacewalking peppered by stubborn bolts and dead power tool batteries, Massimino vented frustration at times while trying to revive a dead instrument.
But he and Good were eventually successful, despite their setbacks. Near the end, Massimino sounded reluctant to leave the view of Earth behind.
"It's time for me to go inside?" he asked crewmate John Grunsfeld, who was inside Atlantis.
?It's time for you to go inside,? Grunsfeld replied.
?Okay, well ? it's just, it's turned into a beautiful day out here,? he said. ?I'll take one last look and then go.?
SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of NASA's last mission to the Hubble Space Telescope with senior editor Tariq Malik in Houston and reporter Clara Moskowitz in New York. Click here for mission updates, live spacewalk coverage and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
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